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2 Ways to Check Keyword Competition & Why Keyword Planner Isn't Best

"Keyword competition" is a measure of the difficulty of getting impressions for a keyword in Google Ads. If there are 40 advertisers bidding on the keyword "ice cream maker," you're going to have to bid high to get great impressions (i.e. to get people to see your ads) because 40 is not a few. It's a lot. Your overall performance could suffer when there are so many competitors. You might not want to choose a keyword that has so much competition. But is the quantity of competitors the only factor that really matters?

There's more to it, actually. On this page, we'll explain how tools like SpyFu and SEMRush use more factors than Google to determine keyword competition and how that could help you get better results. But first, let's take a look at how you can check keyword competition in Google Ads, with Keyword Planner.

Checking Competition with Keyword Planner (5 Steps)

1. Log into Google Ads and click the Tools & Settings icon (looks like a wrench) in the upper section of the page. A sub-menu will open.

2. Click Keyword Planner.

3. Click Discover New Keywords.

4. Enter your keywords and click Get Results. If you have a list of keywords in a spreadsheet or a comma-separated list (e.g. car wax, turtle wax,), you can copy and paste them into keyword planner.

5. Now you can see the keyword competition. If you don't see it, click on Columns, then Modify columns. Then select Competition and click the Apply button. Competition will display categories such as "low" and "high," whereas Competition (indexed value) will show a value from 0-100, where 100 is highest and 0 is lowest competition. If you see a dash in either of these columns, there is not enough data available, which probably means not many people are advertising with the corresponding keyword.

Keyword Planner gives you ideas for additional keywords right underneath the keywords you entered, which is nice.

Keyword planner makes it easy to do research and put your chosen keywords right into your ad groups (comment if you want instructions for that). It also does a pretty good job letting you work with lists of keywords. It has downsides, however.

Why Checking Keyword Competition with Google Keyword Planner Might Not Be Good Enough

The problem for advertisers with limited budgets is that Keyword Planner's "competition" isn't all that sophisticated. Google says "The level of competition—low, medium, or high— is determined by the number of advertisers bidding on each keyword relative to all keywords across Google." In other words, more advertisers using a keyword means higher competition and fewer advertisers using a keyword means lower competition. That's about all there is to it.

Keyword Planner doesn't do anything to try to determine how much money these advertisers can spend on the keywords, which plays a big part in the ad auction. If there are only two advertisers but both of them have oceans of cash to spend on advertising, they will probably outbid a startup that doesn't have much to spend. There's a way to get a better idea of the competition and make your keyword research more effective if you need to.

SpyFu Measures "Ranking Difficulty" Instead of Keyword Competition

SpyFu measures keyword competition in terms of what it calls "ranking difficulty." Ranking difficulty is calculated using more than just the number of advertisers bidding on a keyword. It also takes into account the strength of the domains, on-page signals like "keyword in title," and the number of .gov and .edu domains. Some of these things are decent indicators of the marketing sophistication of an advertiser and others are indicators of the money they have in their reserves. You can see why Ranking Difficulty is a stronger metric to work with than keyword competition.

There's an argument for using SpyFu if you have strict ROI or spending restrictions because it can help you really hone in on the most affordable keywords. You could also use it to compete more directly with competitors, on the other hand, by simply "spying" on them and then bidding on the keywords they use. Here are the keywords a company called Klient Boost bids on, for example. (Note: You'll see a paywall if you try to browse too much before signing up)

But let's go back to ranking difficulty. Here's how you check it in SpyFu.

Using SpyFu to Check Ranking Difficulty and Choose Keywords (3-4 Steps)

Note: You'll hit a paywall after your first search unless you sign up for a plan.

1. Go to and enter a keyword into the box that says "enter your competitor's website." (Yes, you can enter keywords instead of a website.)

2. Press Enter on your keyboard.

3. Take a look at the Ranking Difficulty section.

You'll see lots of useful information below on the page, such as recommended keywords, advertisers using the keywords, and organic search metrics. Google doesn't provide much of this.

4. Click the Related Keywords tab to see similar keywords. The suggestions here tend to be better than Google's keyword suggestions.

What's Next?

The next thing to do is to decide if you need a better competition metric than Google's Keyword Planner can give. Go to and look at all the metrics it provides, while you're deciding. Much of it is not available from Google.

If you want to optimize your keyword list to the highest possible degree, a $33 SpyFu plan is going to be worth it. If you just want to be the advertiser with the most impressions, which is not easy to achieve without a hefty budget, maybe Keyword Planner is good enough for you.

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